Since our last sojourn together the Intelligence Community (IC) continues to be a “target rich” environment for controversy and contemplation.
As the last MAZINT was being posted Director of National Intelligence DNI) Clapper was being derided and chastised for assessing that the conflict in Libya could devolve into a stalemate. Given how things had transpired in Tunisia and Egypt along with the Obama Administration’s policy decision to militarily support the Libyan rebels for humanitarian reasons the DNI was apparently wrong about the facts and in conflict with national policy. This stalemate assessment, however, has turned out to be real a “truth to power” moment that has largely gone unrecognized except for a CNN Op-ed by Mike Hayden.
Meanwhile the beltway rumor mill has been in full production over Leon Panetta leaving CIA to replace Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense and General David Patreaus falling in behind Panetta at Langley. Beats me if there is any validity to these seemingly creditable and circular reports, but if things do shake out with Patreaus becoming CIA Director this will be the first time that an incumbent DNI would have the opportunity to “name” the CIA Director. So far all four DNI’s have “inherited” the CIA Directors who “serve” them. Another interesting aspect is whether Patreaus would remain on active duty as Director CIA.
So let’s pivot from rumors about General Patreaus’ next posting to his current Area of Responsibility (AOR) - - - Afghanistan. I have just finished reading Bing West’s The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way out of Afghanistan which provides a compelling view of military operations there from the battalion level down. I will forgo discussing the macro issue of whether US strategic goals in Afghanistan are worth the blood and treasure being expended on behalf of an Afghan population and government that is for the most part a neutral in this fight. Instead I want to talk about the how real time Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) looks from the engaged forces at the company level. First off, considering how many ISR resources are engaged in Afghanistan, “ISR by contact” seems more common than should be expected, but this can at least be explained by a combination of target resolution and diminishing bandwidth to small tactical units.
What is less understandable to me is the time it takes engaged forces in Afghanistan with creditable ISR to get a “cleared to fire” from up echelon staffs. In this relatively short book, West chronicles two instances (one in the North and one in the South) of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) locating hostile forces that could be taken under fire by US troops. In both cases contact is lost with the adversary while 20 minutes is taken for command authority to respond with “clear to fire” authorization. With this kind of self-induced command and control (C2) latency those concerned with both “support to the warfighter” and the cost of ISR should be questioning why so much emphasis is being placed on delivering “near real time” ISR to theater. As any fighter pilot can tell you (and more than a few have beat me up over this) in a fleeting fight 20 minutes is not close to real time. Yes, I get the impact hitting the wrong target in a counter insurgency can create as well as the importance of deconfliction to prevent friendly fire incidents, but if the 20 minutes is an immutable reality of our C2 structure then let’s ratchet back on requirements for real time ISR to tactical forces. In West’s book none of the “grunts” he was embedded with were requiring that ISR be more real time but they did not understand why command staffs took so much time to act on the same ISR they were seeing!
Army Major General Mike Flynn, who authored “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan” while serving as the senior US Intelligence Officer in Afghanistan, says the answer to being able act on real time intelligence lies in centralizing information and decentralizing the authority to act on it. Sounds simple enough, but this means not only allowing E-5s and 0-3s access to exquisitely tailored all source intelligence, but also the authority to act on it
Said differently, we appear to wasting money for a near real time ubiquitous ISR capability in Afghanistan that we either can’t or don’t know to use.
That’s what I think; what do you think?